The mystery surrounding Malaysia Airlines flight 370 might make people a little more fearful about flying, but experts say it likely will be temporary — and you shouldn’t expect your flights to be significantly emptier as a result.
“It increases the fear for people who are already afraid of flying. It temporarily makes people who may not be phobic about flying uneasy about flying. And people who already really have difficulty flying — it stops them from flying for a while,” said Martin Seif, a clinical psychologist who specializes in treating people with a fear of flying.
But in the long run, said aviation expert Richard Aboulafia of the Teal Group, even an incident as high-profile as this is unlikely to have any long-term effect on how many people ride in airplanes. That’s because people need to get around — and most people do understand that flying is inherently quite safe.
Still, experts who treat people with flying phobias expect to have a busy couple of weeks working with people whose anxieties have been heightened as a result of the incident. The Boeing 777 lost contact en route from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing, and a desperate search for the missing jet continues.
Ron Nielsen, who teaches free classes on overcoming your fear of flying at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, said he is already seeing an increase in calls from nervous flyers. He expects the incident to be a hot topic of conversation at his next class.
Nielsen, a retired pilot, said some nervous flyers may see the incident as a justification for all their fears.
“When you have a story that pops up like this missing airplane in Malaysia then our brain says, ‘See, I told you this is dangerous!’” he said.
Seif said that for many people with a fear of flying, a crash is not their primary worry. Many are claustrophobic and uneasy being in such an enclosed space, or afraid of heights.
Seif’s general advice to people who are nervous about flying: Try not to change your plans because of your fears.
“The active ingredient for overcoming anxiety is exposure,” he said.